Word and Deed

Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law. Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.

– Merrick Garland
Stephen K. Bannon Indicted for Contempt of Congress

This week’s featured posts is “Does America Need an Anti-Cancel Culture University?

This week everybody was talking about Steve Bannon’s indictment


Steve Bannon, a former adviser to a former president, was indicted Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress, each of which could lead to one year in prison. He surrendered today (frustrating my fantasy of a you’ll-never-take-me-alive shootout).

The two counts stem from a subpoena issued by the January 6 Select Committee, and are for (1) failing to produce subpoenaed documents, and (2) failing to appear for a deposition. For the documents, there is at least an argument to make: Trump has claimed executive privilege on other coup-related documents, and while that claim is probably baseless, it is still wending its way through the courts. So Bannon’s refusal is tenuously connected to someone else’s meritless claim.

The failure to appear, though, has no conceivable justification. If he did testify, Bannon might credibly use executive privilege to justify refusing to answer specific questions about his conversations with Trump. But he also has his own behavior to answer for, as well as possible conversations with conspirators other than the defeated president. Simply knowing a former president does not immunize Bannon against any possible questioning by Congress, so his behavior is quite literally contemptuous.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has also refused to appear for questioning. His case is somewhat stronger, in that he was at least employed by the president at the time under investigation. But similarly, his proper course of action is to show up and invoke executive privilege on a question-by-question basis. (The model here is the way Mafia bosses invoked the Fifth Amendment at the 1951 Kefauver hearings. Chicago capo Tony Accardo pleaded the Fifth 170 times.) It can’t possibly be true that everything he knows is privileged. Meadows undoubtedly had conversations with coup-friendly members of Congress, and allegedly met with organizers of the January 6 protests. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have to answer questions about those meetings.

The committee has not yet decided whether to recommend an indictment of Meadows, but I predict it will.

A related question is whether the Bannon indictment will make other subpoenaed witnesses more cooperative. We’ll see.

An appeals court has delayed the January 6 Committee’s access to Trump administration documents held in the National Archives, pending a hearing. Last week, a lower-court judge dismissed his executive privilege claim with a forceful statement that “presidents are not kings“. Trump’s lawyers argued his case as a separation-of-powers dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government, but the judge rejected that framing: President Biden represents the executive branch, and he agrees that Congress should get the documents. So the dispute is between the US government and a private citizen who was once president.

The hearing on Trump’s appeal will start November 30.

Today’s fun fact: I already knew NFL stars Nick and Joey Bosa are brothers, but until this week I didn’t know they’re Tony Accardo’s great-grandsons. I’m sure the Big Tuna would be proud.

and race-related murder trials


Closing arguments in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial begin today. The judge dismissed the one charge that Rittenhouse had no defense against: a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.

I haven’t been watching this trial, largely because following it at a distance is upsetting enough. I find it impossible to imagine anyone taking his defense seriously if he were liberal and Black. Picture, say, a Black liberal taking an AR-15 to the January 6 riot, then shooting a few people when he started to feel threatened. I can’t imagine that anyone would take his self-defense claim seriously.

In the Rittenhouse case, there are two different issues: Whether Rittenhouse is guilty of a major crime, and what it says about the state of the law if he isn’t. Josh Marshall takes on the second question:

the basic argument here is that Rittenhouse wasn’t doing anything wrong by just carrying around an AR-15. Wisconsin’s an open carry state. The inherent aggression and menace of carrying around high caliber weapons, which we’re told is only a problem for squeamish libs, becomes a path for the person carrying the fire arm to themselves feel threatened and decide they need to use the gun.

The aggression carries the seeds of justification within it. You show up looking for trouble on yet another of these right wing murder safaris like Rittenhouse, with his mother chaperoning, was taking part in. You’re looking for trouble and when you find it that’s your justification for taking the next step. That’s not how self-defense is supposed to work. But we can see in this case how the interplay of open carry and permissive self-defense statutes do just that.

Simultaneously, the three White gunmen who killed unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery are on trial in Georgia. They make an even more unbelievable self-defense claim: Believing (for reasons not entirely clear) that Arbery was responsible for a local burglary, the three men chased him down in their trucks to make a citizen’s arrest. When Arbery began to struggle — as I might were I faced with armed strangers coming after me in trucks — they felt threatened and killed him. If upheld, this seems to be a model of how to commit murder and get away with it.


and Glasgow

The Glasgow Climate Conference has ended. The consensus seems to be that the agreements reached are significant but inadequate. The Guardian annotates the text of the joint statement.

and Republicans’ growing acceptance of political violence

Friday, the NYT published “Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream“, an article which summarizes the growing normalization of right-wing violence and fantasies of violence. It quotes Pomona College political scientist Omar Wasow:

What’s different about almost all those other [violent eras in American history] is that now, there’s a partisan divide around the legitimacy of our political system. The elite endorsement of political violence from factions of the Republican Party is distinct for me from what we saw in the 1960s. Then, you didn’t have — from a president on down — politicians calling citizens to engage in violent resistance.

By comparison very few Republican leaders have spoken out against violence and violent rhetoric in their party.

This week, we found out that former President Trump responded to a question about his supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” by criticizing Pence and excusing the people who wanted to hang him.

Well, the people were very angry. … Because it’s common sense, Jon. It’s common sense that you’re supposed to protect. How can you — if you know a vote is fraudulent, right? — how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress?

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona posted a video (now unavailable) in which his image was photoshopped into an anime video where he killed a photoshopped AOC and threatened Joe Biden with swords. A small portion was played by Anderson Cooper, who raised the question:

What do you suppose would happen if you went into work one day after you posted a video depicting yourself murdering a coworker and brandishing a sword at the company’s CEO? Most of us know the answer: We’d be fired.

Not only is Gosar not being removed from Congress, but Republican House leaders are not even criticizing him. Violent fantasy is just something elected Republicans do these days.

Contrast this incident with when comedian Kathy Griffin — who held no public office and represents only herself — posed with a representation of Donald Trump’s severed head. She was roundly condemned by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Admittedly, the image of Gosar as an anime warrior is so absurd that it’s hard to view the video as a serious threat. But every time people play with ideas like this, they get closer to manifestation. Bullies often “joke” about hurting or raping someone in order to test the waters. If another bully comes back with a more explicit “joke”, eventually it becomes a plan.

The Shriekback song “Every Force Evolves a Form” warns that words can “make tracks that your feet just have to follow”. Thoughts of violence

float above us like a cloud.
And no one knows where the rain will end up falling.

A code word to watch for is rowdy, which the Right is using to make their violent extremists sound like boys who shoot spitwads at the teacher’s back or football fans who get a little too excited after a big win. Tucker Carlson, for example, talked about Trump voters who “got rowdy on January 6”.

Last week I mentioned the right-wing framing in a skewed poll by Mark Penn’s Harris Group. One of the questions asked: “Do you think the attorney general was right or wrong to say the FBI will treat rowdy parents at school board meetings as potential domestic terrorists?” Unsurprisingly, 64% thought it was wrong — because if such a thing had ever happened, it would be wrong. But Merrick Garland’s actual memo said nothing about rowdiness. Instead he talked about

a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.

Parents who are merely being “rowdy” — refusing to stay seated, say, or speaking out of turn — have nothing to fear from the FBI. It’s only when they try to achieve their political aims through violence or intimidation — the definition of terrorism — that they might run into trouble.

Whenever conservatives describe their allies as “rowdy”, they should be challenged to describe the actual behavior they are talking about.

and the pandemic

The post-Halloween upward trend accelerated this week. Daily new cases are above 80K again for the first time since October 18. Hospitalizations (down 8%) and deaths (down 16%) continue a slow decline. It’s not clear yet whether that’s due to vaccination, improved treatments, or just the time lag since cases turned upward.

The Southeast, which was hit hardest in the late-summer wave, is the only part of the country where conditions are improving.

and you also might be interested in …

For once, a senator Trump has targeted is going to stand up and make a race of it. Lisa Murkowski will run in 2022, despite facing a Trump-supported primary challenge.

When Republicans accepted Trump’s grab-’em-by-the-pussy comment in 2016, and ignored the dozens of women who accused him of abuse, they opened a door that has never closed. Trump is helping candidates for Congress go through that door, despite credible claims of abuse made against them.

The most outrageous example is Max Miller, who is running to replace impeachment-supporting Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in Ohio’s 16th district. His accuser is not some random woman Trump might imagine was recruited by Democrats. It’s his own former communications director Stephanie Grisham, Miller’s former girl friend, who told Jake Tapper “It was like a gut punch when I saw that [Trump] endorsed [Miller], knowing what happened.”

Not all people who vote Republican are sexists, but abuse of women is not a deal-breaker for them.

Democrats’ and Independents’ assessment of crime in their local area changes slowly. But Republican assessments of crime shift suddenly depending on whether their party controls the White House. Republicans’ fear of crime in their neighborhoods dropped when Bush replaced Clinton in 2001, shot up again when Obama replaced Bush, plummeted when Trump replaced Obama, and skyrocketed again this year.

Crime, like the deficit, is only a problem when a Democrat is president.

A lot of people have been linking to this 26-second clip of Mike Flynn saying that America needs “one religion”. That sounds really bad (and probably is), but it’s a short clip and nobody seemed to know any context, other than he said it as part of the Reawaken America Tour that he’s on with other right-wing yahoos like Mike Lindell and Alex Jones.

I went looking for a longer clip and couldn’t find one until this morning. It seems clear from the longer clip that Flynn envisions all religions coming together voluntarily rather than by force, but his vision should still feel threatening to anyone who isn’t a Christian, or isn’t a type of Christian Flynn would recognize.

While failing to find that context yesterday, I skimmed over this 11-hour video (now gone) of a day’s worth of Reawaken America. Flynn appears for about 20 minutes beginning at the 37-minute mark, but that clip doesn’t include the one-religion bit. It’s also not in Flynn’s segment from the previous day (another 11 hours), which starts around the 9:50 mark. Flynn’s schtick seems to be a Q&A format, and we still don’t know what he was asked that led to the one-religion answer.

While scanning that longer video to find Flynn, I happened across the presentation by anti-vax Dr. Sherri Tenpenny (an osteopath). (It starts around the 6:20 mark.) From her slides I learned that the vaccine contains nanobots, and that the “mNRA breaks the DNA sulfide bonds and inserts AI; this intentionally removes God — YHVH — from your genes.”

That’s the level of indoctrination people are getting on that tour.

Josh Marshall snarks well. An LA Times tweet promoted an article:

Tasha Adams devoted her life to supporting her husband. She was an exotic dancer to pay for his college, took care of him when he accidentally shot himself in the face, and when he was looking for direction in life, she helped him start the Oath Keepers.

And Marshall replied:

who among us has not accidentally shot ourselves in the face during the directionless period before we started a fascist militia group?

Catherine Nichols’ article “The good guy/bad guy myth” is almost four years old, so it’s not directly tied to any current news story. But in some sense it’s tied to all of them: Our popular culture drenches us with stories in which good guys battle bad guys, with the fate of the world in the balance. But if you take a step back, you realize that traditional folk tales didn’t do this.

Stories from an oral tradition never have anything like a modern good guy or bad guy in them, despite their reputation for being moralising. In stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Sleeping Beauty, just who is the good guy? Jack is the protagonist we’re meant to root for, yet he has no ethical justification for stealing the giant’s things. Does Sleeping Beauty care about goodness? Does anyone fight crime?

Nor do folktales present a consistent set of values. Some heroes win through honesty, others through trickery. That’s true even in the Bible. Jacob, for example, tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau. The Norse trickster god Loki is ambiguous — villainous when he fools Hodr into slaying Baldur, but heroic when his deceptions help Thor reclaim his hammer from a frost giant. He didn’t change from one to the other; he was always both.

Nichols argues that the good/bad motif in popular narrative doesn’t become dominant until the rise of nation-states, and the corresponding rise of the idea that a nation’s folklore represents or defines some kind of national character with positive national values.

Once the idea of national values entered our storytelling, the peculiar moral physics underlying the phenomenon of good guys versus bad guys has been remarkably consistent. One telling feature is that characters frequently change sides in conflicts: if a character’s identity resides in his values, then when he changes his mind about a moral question, he is essentially swapping sides, or defecting.

Comic book villains often flip to become heroes (and are welcomed). Darth Vader turns against the Emperor and is redeemed in death. But no matter how angry Achilles got with Agamemnon, he never considered defecting to Troy; it just wouldn’t have made any sense.

I have to wonder how different our politics would be today if we still had narrative options other than good against evil.

Back in 1972, Big Bird encouraged kids to get their measles vaccine without incident, but when BB and several other Sesame Street muppets joined CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta to answer kids’ questions in “The ABCs of Covid Vaccination” and Big Bird tweeted about getting vaccinated, it was too much for Senator Ted Cruz and other anti-public-health conservatives.

“Government propaganda … for your 5-year-old,” Cruz tweeted back, as if encouraging children to learn to count and read isn’t government propaganda.

The replies to Cruz have been hilarious. Steven Colbert said his response was “brought to you by the letters F and U”. A Big Bird parody is running for Senate against Cruz, promising not to “fly away to Cancun when Texas is in trouble”. And SNL did a Ted Cruz Street opening, claiming that the senator’s show airs on Newsmax Kids right before “White Power Rangers”.

and let’s close with something in this world

Some Icelanders made a tourism video that parodies Mark Zuckerberg’s promotion of the metaverse.

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  • Jeff R.  On November 15, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and himself.”

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

  • Jeff R.  On November 15, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    It would be interesting if the graph on perceived crime could show the discrepancy between perception and reported crime. I’m assuming there’s little to no correlation though that would indeed make it compelling.

  • Nancy Rubinstein  On November 16, 2021 at 10:29 am

    I guess if Kathy Griffin put up the same photo with the severed head right now it would create as much controversy again, but with more violent responses.

  • Thomas Paine  On November 16, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    The legal concept of Executive Privilege belongs to the office of POTUS, not to any particular trustee of that office currently or formerly exercising the office’s responsibilities. This goes to the core of (one of) the problem(s) with Donny Corruption: conflating himself with the office as if they’re one and the same when, in fact, they’re anything but.

    The current trustee of the office of POTUS declined to claim Executive Privilege on behalf of the office for the documents in question. Case closed.

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